The Color Purple (1985)

The Color Purple (***1/2)
By Jon Waterman

Summary – In the early 1900s, a 14-year old Celie has her baby girl taken away from her, by her incestuous father, in order to be disposed of in some way.  Heartbroken, she’s desperate to find a way to be free of her abusive father.  A chance comes in the form of a suitor named Albert.  He’s a more well-to-do African American and takes her hand in marriage, even though he’d rather have Celie’s younger sister, Nettie.  Well, life with Albert may not be all that she hoped as she has to adjust to life with his abuses as well as his ban on letting Nettie ever visit again.

Dear God – In all honesty, it’s tough to explain the plot, because so much happens.  We’re following Celie’s life through several decades and a lot happens within the 2.5 hours of screen time.  Yet, despite that, the film almost feels too short.  I’m not familiar with Alice Walker’s novel, but the script is like a highlight (or low-light) reel of key events and much is glossed over too quickly.  There are times when certain things happen, like when Shug Avery comes to stay with them, and I wasn’t completely sure what lead to that.  Other key themes, like the relationship between Shug and Celie are simply alluded to, but that’s likely not because of time constraints but rather the era in which the movie was made.

Rainbows – Even though the plot is a series of bullet points, it’s still quite fascinating and runs the gamut of emotions.  Most of it is on the heavier side, but there is some much needed comic relief, like when Albert tries to make food for Shug and it turns into a slapstick adventure, or when Albert’s son’s love interest Sofia (played wonderfully by Oprah Winfrey) gives anyone their come-uppance.

Color Correction – Steven Spielberg’s direction is interesting, although maybe a tiny obvious at times. In the early parts of the film, he employs a lot of shadows on the wall for people talking (instead of showing them directly), or we see people talking through curtains or windows.  There’s almost always something obscuring or filtering Celie’s point of view to some degree.  Middle of the film, it’s more straight-forward.  Near the end, there is a lot of juxtaposition in the camerawork.  Parallels between two different scenes show the same movements, angels, settings and even sounds carry over as they cut back and forth.  I understand exactly why it was done, but again, it was maybe a tad obvious.

Biggest Standout – Whoopi Goldberg, known for her stand-up comedy and one-woman shows at this point, is absolutely phenomenal in her first movie.  She keeps a lot of that 14-year old childlike attitude and approach to situations without seeming adolescent.  Her whole being is a silver lining in a tough world that hasn’t given her a reason to see one.  Especially powerful for me was the scene when Shug sings to Celie and she forms tears in her eyes and works hard to avoid showing her growing smile.

Biggest Disappointment – I think the music was too heavy-handed and cheesy.  It gave the atmosphere of a more light-hearted ‘50s movie rather than the largely serious drama that was unfolding.

Is It Worth Watching Again? – Yes, I think so. It doesn’t feel as long as the running time indicates, and the performances are a fascinating stitching to a patchwork story.   I imagine it might be better served by reading the book first to understand more of the subtleties.

Rating: PG-13
Year: 1985
Running Time: 154 min
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Menno Meyjes
Starring:  Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Margaret Avery


The Hurricane Heist (2018)

The Hurricane Heist (1/2 star)
By Jon Waterman

Summary – A group of thieves are attempting to steal millions of dollars from a treasury in Alabama.  With a hurricane fast approaching the town, they see it as the perfect opportunity to get in, and get rich quick, while most everyone is away.  However, the storm turns out to be a little bit more than they anticipated and there’s also some human resistance they might have to take care of as well.

The – You know…I feel like I’m making this movie sound better than it is, because it is downright awful.  Somehow the movie is able to simultaneously move too fast and too slow in the plot and character set-up. We’re introduced to what seems like dozens of two-dimensional characters in such a short amount of time, you’ll feel like you’re in a hurricane.  Because of that speed, I have no idea who these people are or what they’re trying to do.  However, it moves too slowly, because you get through about a third of the movie before anything actually starts to happen or a plan starts to take any kind of shape.  There are a lot of words, but they feel like random sentences strung together.  The dialogue is extremely cheesy and character attitudes/personalities change practically mid-sentence.  They keep alluding to backstories that don’t necessarily come to fruition.  It’s a mess.

Heist – Heist movies should be fun. You follow some criminals around and see how sneaky and cool they are in order to outsmart the ones seemingly in control and accomplish their goals.  In this movie, we don’t follow the robbers; we follow the two or three people that get caught up in the storm that are trying to stop them, a la “Die Hard.”  Not ideal, but could still be fun I guess.  It would be if either side actually knew what they were doing.  The bad guys are heavily reliant on this hurricane doing exactly what they expect it to do and at just the right times.  The good guys are trying to defeat the bad guys out in the town and are heavily reliant on using the hurricane to injure or sabotage them in precise ways.  In essence, everyone is planning and relying on a lot of luck to go their way.  For instance, in the mall, they create this vacuum of sorts (no idea if that’s close to scientifically possible) to suck up people out of the broken skylight while they stay tethered.  They assume they will be safe from all the debris from the mall or whatever else the hurricane has in its midst.  And they somehow can also freely run away at just the right time, and the one person that’s not tethered to anything that needs saving will manage to hold on.  Oh, and clearly the eye of the storm will completely follow the path of the highway that they need for any sort of high speed getaway and they will easily be able to escape without running into the storm wall at all.

Hurricane – The hurricane has a face.  Yes, you read that correctly.  In the opening scene (and later in the movie), as a flashback, two kids see their dad die in hurricane Andrew in 1992 and when that happens, a skull/ghost face appears.  That’s how we start!  Then the movie tries to be serious again, but the damage has been done.  I’m also not sure why this massive hurricane, which is supposed to be bigger than any we’ve ever seen, is still not that powerful in any of the external scenes.  It looks like a normal storm.  The biggest issue is that people are able to run around and drive perfectly fine at all times.  If they’re in the main path, there would be massive flooding and no one would be able to move like this or navigate the town, even if their car is essentially the Batmobile.

Biggest Standout – There’s a lot to unpack in this movie and much I haven’t commented on, but the ending has to be the biggest standout for how unbelievably nonsensical it is.  Nothing makes a bit of sense in terms of movie logic or scientifically.  Actually, maybe the biggest standout is how this B-movie (or lower) actually got the funding and wide release it did.  Rob Cohen (“The Fast and the Furious”) clearly put in a lot of effort and planned the shoot reasonably well from a visual/cinematography standpoint (not the CGI.  That is muddy and gray – I’m talking about the camerawork and shot composition for the effect-less scenes).  Why so much effort would be put into this garbage is beyond me.

Biggest Disappointment – There is so much untapped potential from the hurricane.  This much power and these winds can hold anything and destroy things.  There should be iconic imagery and memorable moments from the storm.  Everyone remembers the cow from “Twister.”  The closest we get is a laughable face of death.  So much untapped potential there.

Is It Worth Watching Again? – The only reason to watch it again is to show it to friends and make fun of it the whole time.  There’s a lot of confusion, especially up top, that’s not very funny but the storm gets stronger as it goes.  My advice is to get those friends together to watch it the first time so you don’t sit through it a second time.

Rating: PG-13
Year: 2018
Running Time: 103 min
Director: Rob Cohen
Writer: Scott Windhauser, Jeff Dixon
Starring:  Toby Kebbell, Maggie Grace, Ryan Kwanten

Ocean’s Eight (2018)

Ocean’s Eight (**1/2)
By Jon Waterman

Summary – Debbie Ocean is released on parole following a stint in prison for defrauding people on art deals.  Being a lifelong criminal and thief, she has to go back to doing what she loves and immediately contacts her old partner.  There’s a job she wants to pull and has spent the last five years behind bars meticulously planning everything.  All that’s missing is a team of specialists so they can steal a necklace that’s worth $150 million in plain sight.

Let Me In – To have a good heist, you need a good plan.  I think they have one, but it’s tough to know for sure because we’re not let into the plan ahead of time.  We see Debbie putting some pieces together, but they never give a rundown to say what they expect to happen.  That’s important in some cases (like this) because the audience should be part of the crew and we want to watch it unfold and be invested when something deviates.  Instead, a series of events happens and Debbie grins as if it’s all as expected. If she wants to keep some things secret from her crew to add a twist at the end, that’s fine, but it’s boring to be left in the dark.  A possible related example is that she has this list, and they make a big deal about this list and how no one can see it, and then at some point we see it but it doesn’t really mean anything without further explanation that’s never given.

Eight is More Than Enough – There are quite a few characters as you might imagine, but aside from some brief introductions, there’s no development for most of them.  We don’t even get to see some of them in action in their craft.  Lou (Cate Blanchett) is Debbie’s partner and long-time friend, but aside from that I have absolutely no idea what she brings to the table other than a headquarters and a couple connections. Each person will perform a few small duties and aside from the computer hacker and the jeweler, the specialties don’t seem to come into play as much as you might hope.

Stealing the Show – The star cast seems to be having fun, but the performances are a little phoned in.  Anne Hathaway was good as the famous actress mark, but honestly Awkwafina playing the pickpocket Constance was my favorite.  She actually brought some much needed comedic banter to her part.  You would think Rihanna’s hacker character 9-Ball would have that sarcastic wit, but her role was very dry and lifeless.  James Corden comes into the film a bit later and adds a welcome new dimension.

Biggest Standout – There are a lot of celebrity cameos, and the movie seems to be paying homage and respect to women in the film industry and media from multiple generations.  That was nice.  I don’t know if they tried to get Angie Dickinson (from the original “Ocean’s 11“) to be involved, but that would have been the icing on the cake.

Biggest Disappointment – Aside from the anachronistic music that would have fit a 1960s movie like “The Pink Panther,” I’m more upset about the plot holes.  They make a big deal about creating a security camera blind spot in one area, but then when the fake necklace is revealed, anyone could have reviewed that footage and worked backwards from there.  There are other flaws, but that’s one.

Is It Worth Watching Again? – As much as I’m complaining in the review, I still had fun with the movie.   I wanted it to be a smarter movie, but there’s nothing wrong with a mindless popcorn flick.  If there was more substance, then it might be worth watching again.

Rating: PG-13
Year: 2018
Running Time: 110 min
Director: Gary Ross
Writer: Gary Ross, Olivia Milch
Starring:  Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter

Ocean’s Twelve (2004)

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Ocean’s Twelve (*)
Reviewed by Jon Waterman

Danny Ocean and his boys are at it again.  Well, actually, Terry Benedict is at it, forcing the old crew of eleven to be at said “it.”  You see, Terry wants all the money that was stolen from his casinos back.  He has been in contact with a mastermind thief to track everyone down.  If the money isn’t repaid in full, with interest, Mr. Benedict is going to the authorities.  Well, the guys already spent the majority of the cash on various things.  So, how will they come up with the tens of millions needed to square up the bill?  Why, by stealing of course.  What else?

With “Ocean’s Eleven” I was in.  This time, count me out.  For starters, once again it takes far too long to get into anything.  We spend a good half hour or more catching up with everyone and reintroducing the characters.  I could honestly care less what they’ve been up to, or how they spent the money.  It didn’t mean anything to the storyline or to the audience.  So, by the time any sort of actual plot line comes along, the interest is gone.  Screenwriter George Nolfi (who’s only previous work is the sure-to-be-classic, “Timeline”) doesn’t get things moving any better once the heist starts up.  The first job they pull was too uncomplicated, and the major one was complex beyond comprehension.  All the twists and turns couldn’t be predicted, but they also couldn’t be believed (even for a movie that requires so much suspension of reality as this).  It makes this whole escapade rather lifeless.

The characters aren’t as fun as they were, either.  A big problem is the addition of the other thief, the Night Fox (played by Vincent Cassel from “Irreversible”).  He’s out to one-up everyone and prove that he’s the best in the world, and so he sabotages their efforts.  The movie probably didn’t need two enemies (three if you count the FBI agent played by Catherine Zeta-Jones).  That’s a bit of overkill.  He wasn’t even a good character to begin with.

The visual aspect suffers from the same type of overload.  Director Steven Soderbergh shoots most of his own stuff (under an alias).  This time, he brought in another cinematographer in Chris Connier.  Even though he worked on “Angela’s Ashes,” I think having the two working like this created too much of a mish-mash, stylistically.  It tried to accomplish everything and hit the eyes with all sorts of tricks and maneuvers and whatnot, which made it all fail.

I have a problem with the name of the movie, too.  I know that’s the easiest way to indicate a sequel and everything, but they didn’t really add a twelfth person.  Sure, an argument could be made that they did, but look at the big picture of the movie and you’ll see that the twelve is essentially meaningless.  The hokeyness of the script verged on insulting, especially at the end.  But for the most part, the big problem is that it just wasn’t fun or interesting or exciting.

Rating: PG-13
Year: 2004
Running Time: 125 min
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: George Nolfi
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

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Ocean’s Eleven (2001) (***1/2)
Reviewed by Jon Waterman

Straight out of prison, Danny Ocean has a plan.  He’s looking to pull off one of the most complicated heists ever attempted.  Money from three casinos are kept in one single vault, and they want to break in.  The only problem is that it’s the most impenetrable vault ever created.  Danny’s going to need a little help.  So, he calls on his fellow robber friends and assembles a crack team full of professional criminals, crooks, and cheats.  The take is huge, but so is the risk.  Are you in, or are you out?

I’d have to say that I’m in.  Director Steven Soderbergh and writer Ted Griffin collaborate to update the original movie starring Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack after a forty-year gap.  Boy, was it updated.  This time, the job requires much more intelligence, foresight and myriad skill sets to pull off.  You also get a love story tacked on in a certain roundabout way.  It’s not central, nor is it distracting, but it’s much more evident and carries more weight than in the old one.

The characters interact better here, as well.  One key difference is that professional actors are used in every role, rather than a bunch of friends.  Also, each character actually has something worthwhile to do – a defined roll, so it becomes the ensemble effort it should be.  Although they may not have been an established group prior to filming, like the Rat Pack was, you can still sense a nice cohesion amongst them.  They play off of each other brilliantly and keep the great jovial attitude with them as the actually act their parts.

The movie isn’t perfect.  The opening once again takes too long to introduce everyone, even though each introduction has a purpose.  The film itself, running at almost two hours, could have been shortened.  A couple of the side quests ultimately add nothing significant (like getting the “pinch” to blow the electrical system).  There are also several plot holes and unexplained factors that could distract you or leave you wondering.  The ending doesn’t sit as well with me as the original did, either.

But ultimately, this new version is so different from the original that it hardly seems like a remake.  Even if it were a more straight-on rehashing, just adding Steven Soderbergh’s visual touch would make it better than the 1960 film.  It’s smart, funny, charming, tricky and exciting.  Where that version was campy fun, this is actual, legitimate fun with no guilty pleasure aftertaste.

Rating: PG-13
Year: 2001
Running Time: 116 min
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Ted Griffin
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts

Ocean’s 11 (1960)

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Ocean’s 11 (**1/2)
Reviewed by Jon Waterman

Danny Ocean and his buddies from the 82nd Airborne are getting together for a little reunion.  This isn’t a time for them to sit back and talk about their days in the war.  No, instead they’re gathering to go on one last mission.  The plan is to use their combined expertise to pull off the biggest heist in history.  On New Years Eve, five Las Vegas casinos will be hit simultaneously.  But can they pull it off?  Will they get caught?  Forget that.  First they have to worry about whether or not they can get the whole crew back and in on the deal.

You can’t accurately describe this movie without mentioning the Rat Pack.  You got the whole gang here, along with many other supporting characters including Henry Silva, Norman Fell, and Cesar Romero (just to name a select few).  The attitude that comes with the established camaraderie is a very light-hearted, easy-going one.  It looks like all the characters/actors are having a lot of fun and that translates back to the audience.  However, it does not make for very good performances.  Even the more seasoned actors in the Pack, like Frank Sinatra (an Oscar Winner for “From Here to Eternity”) and Peter Lawford just go about their time on screen as if it’ll never be shown to the public.

The whole relationship aspect of the film also hurts the story, in a sense.  Too much time is spent locating and convincing the army buddies to join up.  It would be nice if there were a way to handle two or three at a time, instead of just one.  You almost get to the point where you wonder if the heist aspect of the movie will ever actually happen.  After the heist, you have an insanely long resolution period, too.  Director Lewis Milestone (“All Quiet on the Western Front”) must have felt the urge to include everything that happened at every location in the film, when it really wasn’t necessary.  The point is there’s not enough meat on the plate.  At slightly over two hours, some of that fat should have been trimmed, or maybe even made into a sequel.

The film tries to be funnier than it should be.  Most of the time, the humor is very flat and dryly delivered.  They are oddly placed, as well.  In the middle of a key sequence, there will be a pause for some comedic attempt, then go right back to the narrative.  Sometimes, they just needed to let go and allow the scene to play out naturally.  Like I said, the cast is obviously having fun with the film; there’s no need to go overboard with corny one-liners.

I wish I could say this film was “a thrilling adventure,” or “a magnificent, daring caper.”  Instead, I have to tell it straight and say this is just a movie where the Rat Pack got together and had some fun in Vegas.  Assign characters, add a couple of so-so songs, put it on film and there you go.  It’s still fun, just in a campy way.

Rating: NR
Year: 1960
Running Time: 127 min
Director: Lewis Milestone
Writer: Harry Brown, Charles Lederer
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr.

Sorry to Bother You (2018)

Sorry to Bother You (****)
By Jon Waterman

Summary – Cassius Green is unemployed and living in his uncle’s garage with his artist girlfriend.  Desperate to make something happen, he takes a job at a telemarketing firm but struggles at first.  Then he gets some helpful advice from a fellow African-American:  “Use your white voice” to make more sales.  The tactic works and Cassius seems poised to work his way up the corporate ladder and join the Power Callers in the penthouse while his co-workers are organizing to strike against the company.

Do You Have A Moment? – In his writing and directing debut, Boots Riley has created one of the most visually interesting films of the year, and possibly of the last few years.  His style reminds me a lot of a less surreal, more satirical Michel Gondry.  That inspiration may not be far off as Riley appears to pay homage to him in the hilarious animated film within a film.  There are a lot of clever touches that kept my eyes glued to the screen, from having Cassius drop into the houses he’s calling which shows him physically intrude in their lives, to having the appliances split in half to sprout upgrades to his house, and beyond to things I won’t spoil here.

Don’t Miss Out on This Opportunity – There is a lot of social commentary and satire in this slightly altered universe.  The film never gets too deep into any particular topic, but the groundwork is there and that’s sufficient.  A company called WorryFree gives people lifetime work contracts in a set-up that amounts to slavery.  The most popular show “I Got the Shit Kicked Out of Me,” looks into the degradation of art and the public’s desire to shut down their own thoughts – similar to “Idiocracy.” Everything has a meaning starting with the lead character’s name, Cassius Green.

Thank You For Your Time – Possibly the biggest takeaway (that I can talk about without spoiling things) is how the movie sort of treats society like a minstrel show.  The black voice isn’t good enough to sell things, so use your white voice.  Your pain is our humor and now we own it and you.  Get up and perform for the white bosses and make a fool of yourself and your culture.  It accomplishes some of the same goals as “Bamboozled” with a less obvious tactic.

Biggest Standout – You may think you know what’s going to happen in this movie, but there are a lot of twists, some of them are truly unpredictable.

Biggest Disappointment – I don’t know if it’s a disappointment, but I don’t understand why one of the character’s names is censored.  I feel like I followed along with the reasoning of what was presented, except in that case.

Is It Worth Watching Again? – There is a lot going on, and even though it’s tough to balance it all, Riley did a great job with a great cast.  It’s legitimately funny and absurd and additional viewings would only help to unpack more layers.

Rating: R
Year: 2018
Running Time: 105 min
Director: Boots Riley
Writer: Boots Riley
Starring:  Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler